Ben Weider, founder of the International Napoleonic Society
One of the Generals, Count Henri-Gatien Bertrand, was Napoleon’s Grand Marshal of the Palace. Count Bertrand was accompanied by his wife Countess François-Elisabeth (Fanny) Bertrand and their three children. Tall, elegant and aristocratic the Countess was a feisty and beautiful young woman who had shone in French Society. She hated the island of St Helena ‘the Devil shit this place as he flew from one continent to the other’ she said on her arrival. But loyal to her husband she stayed by his side until Napoleon’s death on 5th May 1821 and was at the ex-Emperor’s bedside when he died.
I chose the genre of a diary to tell Fanny’s story of those five and a half years in an attempt to bring history alive. Every detail has been carefully researched from primary source, unpublished manuscripts in the British Library and from Count Bertrand’s own diary written at the time. It is an accurate, factual, detailed and fascinating account of the reality of life at Longwood between 1815 and 1821.
Read Napoleon’s views on the Battle of Waterloo ‘I still cannot conceive how the Battle was lost.’His opinions on religion and on his wives; about plans to escape from St Helena and the truth regarding Napoleon’s health. Learn of Napoleon’s irrational reaction when Fanny refuses to become his Mistress, and what actually happened at that last fateful meeting between Napoleon and the Governor Sir Hudson Lowe.
Finally, read the moving account of Napoleon’s death as Fanny and her children sit at his bedside, the harrowing details of Napoleon’s autopsy, and Napoleon’s extraordinary funeral.
As a modern contrast, scattered through Fanny’s ‘diary’ are occasional chapters about my own life on St Helena living in Bertrand’s Cottage at Longwood. They reveal the very special nature of St Helena and the wonderful warmth of the Saints who live there.